Distinguished Alumni Awards

Martin Eberhard

Martin Eberhard

For entrepreneurship and pioneering contributions to electric vehicles

Co-Founder, first CEO, Tesla Motors

  • BS, 1982, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois
  • MS, 1984, Electrical Engineering, University of Illinois

Martin Eberhard’s entrepreneurial spirit, his concern for the environment, and his engineering knowledge has all helped boost both the electric car and the eBook industries.

Eberhard has been named the “battery guru” of the electric automobile industry. The Illinois graduate is the co-founder and former CEO of Tesla Motors, the luxury electric automobile company based in San Carlos, California.

Tesla Motor’s battery system, which Eberhard envisioned, used nearly 7,000 lithium ion cells and an optically connected microprocessor. It is light, durable, provides unrivaled acceleration and energy storage, and can travel 220 miles on one charge.

Even before the first Tesla Roadster shipped in 2008, Eberhard’s vision had transformed the way consumers think of electric vehicles. The auto industry was also inspired. A General Motors executive publicly commented that their electric car program was restarted as a direct response to the Tesla Roadster, hence the Chevy Volt.

After leaving Tesla Motors, Eberhard worked for several years as the director of electric vehicles at the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory.

Prior to founding Tesla, Eberhard had a hand in a pair of successful start-ups. He co-founded NuvoMedia in 1997 and created the market for electronic books with the 1998 launch of the Rocket eBook, which provided for the first time the necessary infrastructure to sell and deliver electronic content securely on the Internet.

Before NuvoMedia, Martin was co-founder and Chief Engineer of Network Computing Devices and also developed high-volume terminals for Wyse Technology.

Eberhard has received numerous accolades, including being ranked among the “24 Top Innovators” by Fortune Magazine and among the “50 People Who Matter Now” by Business 2.0 Magazine, in 2007. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and the California Air Resources Board, both in 2007, when he attested to the future of electric vehicles. 

On the University of Illinois campus, Eberhard was a guest lecturer for Engineering 100 in 2006. He and his wife, Carolyn Eberhard (BS Civil Engineering ’83), have been annual donors to the College of Engineering since 1984.